Reveling in its own ridiculousness, the third Thor film is an action packed and hilarious romp which is by far the best Thor film in the Marvel Cinematic Universe.
Marvel have never quite achieve the right tone with a Thor film. The first film – 2011’s Thor was a good origin story, but was uneven in tone and couldn’t match Iron Man or even Captain America in regards to setting up a stand alone Avenger series. Meanwhile the sequel, 2013’s Thor: The Dark World suffered from an unmemorable villain (Chistopher Eccleston as the Dark Elf Malekith if you’d forgotten) and a dull “the world is being destroyed for some vaguely defined motive” plot. It doesn’t help that much of Thor’s appearances in film to date seem to hinge heavily on Tom Hiddleston’s portrayal of Thor’s brother Loki. While there is nothing necessarily wrong with this, it did straight-jacket the films narratives too closely to the dynamic between Hemsworth’s Thor and Hiddleston. So it comes as breath of fresh air that director Taika Waititi has been given enough creative freedom by Marvel Studios to boldly choose a different tonal and visual direction. Gone are the overly earnest themes of honor and pride, and instead comes in a neon coloured jolly featuring an excellent female villain (Cate Blanchett’s Hela), genuine laugh out loud comedy and a satisfying conclusion which looks to lead well into next year’s Avengers: Infinity War.
The action begins with Thor discovering that his brother Loki has been secretly ruling Asgard by impersonating their father Odin (Anthony Hopkins). As a result of this, Odin has been banished to Earth – Norway to be precise, a fitting location considering the Norse mythological origins of many of the characters, and is not long for the world. Because of Loki’s actions, Hela the Goddess of Death is unleashed from her banishment, threatening the survival of Asgard itself. This sounds very tonally dark and serious, yet through Waititi’s direction it is handled deftly. Blanchett excels as Hela, playing her as a sardonic Maleficent style villain of epic strength and power. As the audience we are not allowed to dwell for too long on what could have become a Thor film similar to Dark World, as instead we are thrust into the neon laden world of Sakaar – the universes rubbish dump – a world world for the “unwanted”. Thor finds himself imprisoned here by The Grandmaster – brilliantly portrayed by Jeff Goldblum and forced into gladiatorial combat with Mark Ruffalo’s Hulk (If you’ve seen the trailer, none of this should come as a surprise).
From this point on, the film deftly switches between action on Sakaar, and Hela’s dominion over Asgard. Themes of empire and colonialism are brought up as Asgard’s past is revealed to be far from the benevolent and peaceful “realm eternal”, but sadly these themes are not explored in depth as the film’s tone is kept superficial throughout. The plot itself may also seem rather familiar to Marvel fans – a gang of rag-tag heroes (they even self reverentially call themselves “The Revengers”) are forced to team up and put aside their differences to stop something/somewhere being destroyed. It is hardly the wheel being reinvented, and is reminiscent of many Marvel films released over the studios’ last 9 years. While the plot may not be the most original, the film is almost self aware of this – Loki and Thor’s dynamic mocks strategies used in previous films, and the film revels more in it’s exuberant special effects and eccentric visuals than caring much about originality. This is to the films credit – the film takes bits of The Avengers, bits of Guardian’s of the Galaxy and bits of the previous Thor films to make an entertaining if predictable film with an excellent cast.
It is interesting to note that in it’s early years the Marvel Cinematic Universe films were concerned with making crowd pleasing blockbuster films which were inspired by the comic books, but not slaves to their source material. Now, it appears they are taking more risks, using source material and comic book fan favourites more closely in considering projects and films. This was seen in 2016’s Captain America: Civil War, adapted successfully from the Civil War comic, and has now been used to great effect in Thor: Ragnarok by combining the story arcs of the comics Ragnarok as well as the gladiatorial other-world combat arena of comic book Planet Hulk.
In this film we not only see the best characterization of the God of Thunder, but also the most rounded and interesting portrayal of The Incredible Hulk. Having lived as The Hulk for two years, the film explores the differences in personality between Bruce Banner and the Hulk, and moves the character on from merely being concerned about controlling “the monster within”. The scenes between Thor and Hulk vs. Thor and Banner are funny and revealing of The Avenger’s opinion towards their biggest and strongest Avenger. Idris Elba’s Heimdall is also allowed room to develop as a character – rather than serving as the static guardian of the Bi-Frost, he is given the chance to defend Asgard and kick-ass in the process. A world should also be said about the brilliant portrayal of Valkyrie by Tessa Thompson. It is refreshing to see a Superhero film with a cast not entirely dominated by men, in which the female’s only role is the girlfriend in need of saving. Instead we have strong females as both the main antagonist, and one of the main protagonists. Superhero films still have a long way to go in regards to their representation of women and minorities (hopefully next year’s Black Panther can help address this too), Thor: Ragnarok is a step in the right direction. While not the most original in regards to its narrative, the third stand alone Thor film is a hilarious and fun bit of escapism.
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Thor: Ragnarok is in cinemas worldwide now. For the full Marvel Release schedule check out Den Of Geek’s breakdown here